Get board

check.chess

When facing a defining moment you’re either playing checkers or chess. It’s up to you to know which one before making your next move.

Checkers, chess, management, and athleticism are built on the same foundation; success belongs to the visionary strategist who knows their game inside and out, plays regularly, and isn’t afraid to sacrifice along the road to victory.

Our ability to see the future, play out all possible moves, and control the game is rewarded.

Everything we do has consequences, from the food we eat to the friends we make, our decisions at work, and the choices we make during training. I’ve heard too often, “no good deed goes unpunished,” and over time I’ve come to realize that’s not an indictment of being nice, but of not considering potential outcomes.

Sometimes accommodating in the short term comes back to bite you. Think of the employee who legitimately needs the exception to a rule. In the moment there is no reason why not to bend. Later you realize you’ve just done it for one, which puts you in a lose-lose if you ever need to enforce the bent rule. The precedent is set, you must abide or be seen as unfair.

When making decisions like this you must become the chess master who looks the novice in the eye and asks, “are you sure?” Is that the precedent you want to set? What might you give up later? Do you really want to make that move?

My decision in the 2012 Ironman Lake Placid to swim with the pack in the midst of the churning fray of violence had its consequences. When swimming Mirror Lake, there are ropes under the water defining the horizontal swim course. Buoys are connected to the rope, and if you position yourself on either side you do not have to raise your head ever to site the buoys – just follow the rope beneath you.

The price paid for this choice is that hundreds of athletes have made the same one, making your swim violent and combative. Although you’ve chosen the shortest distance, the energy you’ll spend defending yourself is the price you’ll pay.

Check.

Others choose a wider berth from the rope, opting for a smoother swim with frequent sighting of the buoys and longer distance over the exertion of battle.

These choices mirror your moves on the checker and chess boards; strategic decision making with the best information you can gather to ensure success down the road. Perhaps giving up that rook, knight, or even a calm swim will be worth it in the end. Perhaps not.

I recall a checkers moment when every one of my opponent’s pieces was aligned for a quadruple jump. It was the Pat Griskus Olympic Triathlon in 2012 on the run when I saw the move. There were four people ahead of me spread out evenly along the beautiful, shaded Connecticut road, their pace just a bit faster than mine. My path was clear as I sped up and picked off the runners one at a time. At the finish they had helped me achieve a personal best run on the course.

King me.

While both demand forethought and strategy, checkers can be a faster, more impulsive game than chess, which can be a cerebral test of wills. My advice to you is to play these games on a regular basis. Find a partner or even a computer willing to test your skills and put your brain through the paces of some epic checkers and chess battles. Pay attention to how you’re challenged to think, then bring that same thinking into the workplace and your training.

There are times when you can clear the checkerboard in one move, and times when you must ponder unseen outcomes. Train your mind with checkers and chess. When the time comes to choose, you’ll know the difference and exactly what to do.

Check mate.

Acceptance

acceptance

Acceptance can propel you to greatness or slowly sink you.

Sometimes acceptance deserves a bad rap. We can accept in a way that reduces options, lowers standards, and crushes dreams.

Perhaps you’ve heard or said this at work:

  • Oh, that’s just his way, he’ll never change.
  • We’ve done it that way forever.
  • No, we’ve already tried that and it didn’t work.
  • No one else does it that way.
  • Everyone does it this way.

Each statement another nail in the coffin of true potential.

Ask what you’ve accepted in your life. Has it resulted from your experience or have you inherited someone else’s low expectations? How has acceptance lowered your bar, placing you and your organization farther than ever from being exceptional?

Getting to the truth of these important questions will take real thought and soul searching because most of what you’re looking for is ingrained and invisible.

To begin, ask yourself when was the last time you gave the green light to an innovative idea. Or, perhaps you voted down a proposal or talked yourself out of a new direction. Or, even worse, maybe you haven’t considered a new way of approaching something in a long time. If you do a great job extinguishing, after a while you and others around you will stop creating.

Start small as you survey your workplace for ways to shake things up. Begin with a few easy wins to get others on board, perhaps the design of a lobby or set up of your office. Then move to bigger issues. Don’t be afraid to attack those historic and immovable issues; the process of raging against the machine is worth the effort.

When does acceptance work for you?

When you must shed the weight of stubbornness and fear to lighten your load as you open yourself up to new pathways.

After reading Born to Run, I was convinced I had to become a forefoot runner. I got some super thin, minimal running shoes and began a painful journey to realization that in fact I was not a forefoot runner. I’m at best a mid-foot striker, and a heavy one at that. I’m an old guy that needs a cushioned shoe – cue acceptance music.

Accepting ‘defeet’ has done several things – saved me great pain and potential injury and helped me plan my training. For example, I’ve chosen to train in a heavier version of my racing shoes, so when I get to the race I’m pulling a little less weight.

Perhaps those long distance races aren’t for you, and you’d rather get faster at shorter distances. Or, vice versa. Maybe, like me, you should accept you’re not someone who will exercise at home, so stop buying all that damn equipment. Do a personal athletic audit to determine who you are and what you truly want from your efforts. Then, break a few rules and stop at nothing to get it.

Everyday we’re surrounded by the consequences of what we’ve accepted. Look around and figure out which of those acceptances are holding you back and which have opened your door to greatness.

Bilocation

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Great managers and athletes must be in two places at one time.

As athletes and leaders we must simultaneously do what we do while gauging how we’re doing and what’s happening around us.

As a manager you must always be in and above a conversation, aware of its direction and purpose.

I’ve seen managers miss the entire point of an encounter with an employee because they merely dealt with a conversation’s face value. Is a question about who’s on the schedule really a request for time off? What does dissatisfaction sound like? How about outright rage masked as contentment? As leaders we’re challenged with deciphering sophisticated human communication codes all the time.

One key to success is to slow down when speaking with people. Let conversations be tiny oases in your day. Give them time and focus. If you’re not present during a conversation, especially a quick one, you risk sending the wrong message.

I once spoke with a person who had asked her manager how difficult it might be for anyone to get time off during a particularly busy period. Instead of asking if there was something specific behind her question, the manager went on and on about how it’s got to be all hands on deck with everyone pitching in during this critical time. The manager had no idea the woman was dealing with an issue that would have given her protected time off through FMLA to care for her sick husband. The woman left the conversation fearing she’d have to choose between her husband and her job.

As athletes we too must see the big and small picture. We need to see the road under us while gauging our body’s fuel reserves, maintain great form while rationing precious energy. I’ve completed seven Ironman Lake Placid events and each time I’ve gone out too hard on the first 56-mile bike loop. The check I write for that ride depletes my account for what ends up being a much-harder-than-necessary run.

I’m totally in the moment, but failing to plan for the big picture.

Some tips for training these abilities include:

  • Map a definitive race plan for your next training or racing day. If you traditionally go out of the box fast, ease up a little and consciously save some for a stronger finish. Change your tendencies regularly, don’t be predictable.
  • Role play with a colleague. Have them approach you with a hidden agenda, and ask three questions before you guess their goal. Keep going in sets of three until you get it right. Each time you do this, try and dissect the agenda in fewer questions. Measure your success.
  • For a week recognize when you’re in the moment and when you’re above it. Make note of this consciously and these places will become more comfortable for you.
  • Always think about digging deeper, especially during that quick conversation with someone or a seemingly mundane Wednesday evening run. These opportunities rarely advertise themselves’ it’s up to us to recognize and capitalize on them.

Being present in and above the moment are different skills, both essential to your success.